By Sherrie Li
By Falling James
By Amanda Lewis
By Amy Nicholson
By Amy Nicholson
By Jennifer Swann
By Scott Foundas
By Sherrie Li
IT'S ALSO HARD NOT TO BE MOVED by the events of part two, namely the second Continental Congress’ eventual arrival at American independence from Britain, a hard-won success that Massachusetts delegate Adams had to finesse by segueing from punishing, dynamic oratorto skilled negotiator, thanks to some tips in the art of delegate-stroking from Benjamin Franklin (an entertainingly self-possessed Tom Wilkinson, looking like an upside-down mop). And in the drafting of the Declaration, we get to meet Thomas Jefferson — who would prove to be a lifelong friend and sometimes frustrating antagonist to Adams — and who is mesmerizingly played by Stephen Dillane with a combination of sweet arrogance and stateliness. But it’s in the strange, sad hush before the final vote for independence — punctuated by a literal storm heard outside the walls — that John Adams finds unexpected poignancy, as we sense not gung-ho pride at a nation’s birth but a feeling of dread in the momentousness of the act, due to the inevitable bloodshed and hardship to come. Again, the filmmakers add a visual corollary of stunning power: cross-editing Adams with Abigail as she makes the hard decision to have the family go through the painful inoculation process against the era’s devastating smallpox. As we see each solemn “Yes” in Philadelphia and each crude cut of the skin at the Adams’ Braintree farm, it’s as if everywhere the virus of revolution is being deliberately sown, on a risky bet that it would flame only briefly and lead to something safer down the road.
And this is just the first night. Part 3 shows Adams’ difficulties as a diplomat seeking French support for the war — the frugal scold in a hotbed of libertine opulence — and, as the first ambassador to Holland, looking for a loan to establish U.S. credit. Part 4 details the lead-up to Adams’ vice-presidency and his relationship with his now-adult children. After that I can’t say, since the rest of the miniseries wasn’t made available. But I’d like to think John Adams continues its gripping mission to keep America’s birth from feeling like a series of events that magically happened when certain people showed up like preordained god-men. In its first four segments, John Adams makes very real, very immediate and very gut-wrenching how this shaky country came to stand on its own — and, consequently, stand for something unique — and what galvanized the thinking behind the decisions of some awfully brave people. And in this year of presidential politics, when America’s promise and possibilities seem exciting again, especially in the wake of some pretty bad years, the lessons of this turbulent, euphoric era in our history depicted through the eyes of a wonderfully tough, smart and contradictory figure like John Adams — a man whose perhaps most valuable trait in establishing a republic was seeing the world in front of him for what it was — would seem to be, to borrow a word, self-evident.
JOHN ADAMS | HBO | Two-part premiere Sunday, March 16, 8 p.m., remaining segments Sundays, 9 p.m., with multiple repeats
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